Lithography is a method for printing using a stone (lithographic limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface. Invented in 1796 by German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works, lithography can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or other suitable material.
Lithography originally used an image drawn (etched) into a coating of wax or an oily substance applied to a plate of lithographic stone as the medium to transferink to a blank paper sheet, and so produce a printed page. In modern lithography, the image is made of a polymer coating applied to a flexible aluminum plate. To print an image lithographically, the flat surface of the stone plate is roughened slightly—etched—and divided into hydrophilic regions that accept a film of water, and thereby repel the greasy ink; and hydrophobic regions that repel water and accept ink because the surface tension is greater on the greasy image area, which remains dry. The image can be printed directly from the plate (the orientation of the image is reversed), or it can be offset, by transferring the image onto a flexible sheet (rubber) for printing and publication.
As a printing technology, lithography is different from intaglio printing (gravure), wherein a plate is either engraved, etched, or stippled to score cavities to contain the printing ink; and woodblock printing, and letterpress printing, wherein ink is applied to the raised surfaces of letters or images. Most types of books of high-volume text are printed with offset lithography, the most common form of printing technology. The word lithography also denotes photolithography, amicrofabrication technique used in the microelectronics industry to make integrated circuits and microelectromechanical systems.
The principle of lithography
Lithography uses simple chemical processes to create an image. For instance, the positive part of an image is a water-repelling (“hydrophobic”) substance, while the negative image would be water-retaining (“hydrophilic”). Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible printing ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image. This allows a flat print plate to be used, enabling much longer and more detailed print runs than the older physical methods of printing (e.g., intaglio printing, letterpress printing).
Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in Bohemia in 1796. In the early days of lithography, a smooth piece of limestone was used (hence the name “lithography”: “lithos” (λιθος) is the ancient Greek word for stone). After the oil-based image was put on the surface, a solution of gum arabic in water was applied, the gum sticking only to the non-oily surface. During printing, water adhered to the gum arabic surfaces and avoided the oily parts, while the oily ink used for printing did the opposite.
Offset printing is a commonly used printing technique in which the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. When used in combination with the lithographic process, which is based on the repulsion of oil and water, the offset technique employs a flat (planographic) image carrier on which the image to be printed obtains ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a water-based film (called “fountain solution”), keeping the non-printing areas ink-free.
Development of the offset press came in two versions: In 1875 by Robert Barclay of England for printing on tin, and in 1903 by Ira Washington Rubel of the United States for printing on paper.